Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets has long been considered basketball's most forward-thinking general manager. He was at the center of a New York Times profile on the infiltration of sabermetrics in the NBA. He's a chairperson for the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. He's also the proud owner of exactly one playoff appearance during his six seasons as Houston's GM.
Morey doesn't have the same inherent advantages afforded by major market teams, or at least the ones who, you know, take advantage of it. Prized free agents are never going to come to Houston, though Morey is competent enough to keep the Rockets competitive in the always treacherous Western Conference. It's a dichotomy that has created an interesting windfall which has come to define Morey's tenure every bit as much as algorithms and computer-based player projections. All Daryl Morey wants is a star player, but the Rockets can't get one to sign or be bad enough to earn the type the of high lottery pick necessary to secure an elite talent.
It's easy to make fun of Daryl Morey. He seems to be constantly scheming, yet ultimately unsuccessful. He stock piles "assets" without being able to move them for the caliber of player he lusts after. Instead, the Rockets boast only a roster full of mediocre players and appear doomed to a mixture of first round exits and late lottery selections. It is the very definition of NBA purgatory.
Morey came close to getting his star last season, if Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol is still regarded as such. Morey got his nose into a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, but just as all of the parties agreed to the transaction, commissioner David Stern stepped in a blocked a seemingly fair deal for "basketball reasons". Just when it finally looked like Daryl Morey had his All-Star, he was foiled yet again. He is quite literally becoming the perfect analogy for the smart-but-bumbling nerd who comes so close but never gets the girl.
Lest Houston considers a player who has never scored more than 3.1 points per game a true-to-form "star", the Rockets' 3-year, $25 million offer sheet to Chicago Bulls restricted free agent Omer Asik still won't net the team a true centerpiece. Still, it's contract with a brilliant bit of engineering that will make the Bulls' choice to match the toughest free agent decision the team has faced in some time. Occasionally, the biggest nerd is the most annoying person in the room.
The Bulls caught a bit of a break in that Asik falls under the "Gilbert Arenas Rule". Created as a way for teams to retain second round draft picks who have vastly outplayed their rookie deals, the rule limits opposing teams from offering more than the mid-level exception (ie: $5 million) to a restricted free agent in the first two years of the deal. Still, early reports of Houston's offer sheet had the total value of the contract amounting to $8 million per season. What did Morey have up his sleeve?
Though it's possible we should have seen this coming, the sight of the actual offer sheet was still totally jarring. Houston will pay Asik $5 million in the first season, $5.2 million in year two, and a whopping $14,898,938 million in year three. Morey probably would have liked to make that final season even more toxic, but there's rules against it. Which is to say: in the third year of the deal, Omer Asik will receive what amounts to the NBA's maximum contract.
The Bulls have maintained throughout the process that retaining Asik is the team's top priority of the offseason, though it's easy to see how the structure of the deal might place doubt into their collective heads. The Bulls are over the cap and pushing towards the luxury tax threshold, a fine the team has never paid before. Even the $5 million Asik will earn next season pushes Chicago into tax territory, and there's still the tricky business of filling out the roster and hopefully adding another guard who can actually play.
It's important to remember that for all of the talk surrounding the expected departures of several key "Bench Mob" members, the only restrictions facing the Bulls are self-imposed ones. The Bulls *could* pick up one-year options for Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. They could match Asik. This is the final season before the luxury tax starts to get really imposing. Once the Bulls start spending more than roughly $70.5 million, they'll have a pay $1 for every dollar they go over. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has always maintained he would pay the tax if his Bulls were a legitimate contender. Unfortunately, that opportunity went out the window when Derrick Rose tore his ACL.
The Bulls are in a tough spot. When the max-level contract hits for Asik in 2014-2015, the Bulls will already have Rose making $17.8 million, Carlos Boozer at $16.8 million and Joakim Noah at $13.1 million. They're likely to amnesty Boozer, though that moves ideally nets the Bulls another star. Axing Boozer just to retain Asik and fellow reserve Taj Gibson doesn't strike me as all that appealing. Benches -- even good ones -- are meant to turnover. Just look at the Jordan-helmed dynasty years.
I think I'm with 72 percent of this world: pass on Asik. If they do, it means Kyle Korver is probably coming back. Maybe C.J. can be retained too, as the Bulls certainly aren't going to find a guard as good as Watson for one season at just $3.2 million. Gun to my head, I still think the Bulls match. They won't want to be perceived as a major market team crying poor, though that's exactly what they've been the last decade.